EdReform deja vu in higher ed

Just before the holidays, I spent four days at the regional accreditation association conference (SACS/COCS). It was alternately sad and eerie to watch another level of educators wrestle with distortions of accountability and assessment.

Sad, because discussions about accountability and assessment should be a natural part of our professional lives.

Eerie because it so reminds me of 2001-02 when NCLB was rolling out and causing all manner of unnecessary confusion in the K-12 world.

The discussions of accountability take on a slightly different flavor in a world where “academic freedom” has been so highly touted and defended. Where teachers do not have to use the same textbook–or any textbook. Where grading scales and formulas can range from intricate to esoteric. In the relatively few cases in which a student challenges a grade given by an instructor up through the official grievance procedure, it usually stops in the Dean’s office. There the student learns that it almost requires divine intervention to get a professor’s grading or teaching methods overruled.

Until very recently, colleges did not have to account for student learning at all as part of their accreditation processes. Now, the concept of tying public universities funding to their graduation rates has some members of the academy planning early retirement.

Most college instructors have no pedagogical training, so even terms like student assessment, learning outcomes, or student performance data¬†are foreign to many outside of the teacher education programs. I was sitting at the table when the accreditation site team visited our community college and asked, “What does an A in Freshman Composition mean a student actually knows how to do? Does it mean the same thing in every section at your college?” Jaws dropped; eyes glazed over. Those of us from K-12 background took up the discussion, but nerves had been rattled.

I can hear you K-12 folk snickering, “Yeah, welcome to my world.”

But are these conversations and conversions necessary? Should we be moving the expectations of accountability to the post-secondary level? Is this a case of “what’s good for the goose…” or “enough is enough”?